Part 6 out of 7
reason, that is--and expect all the world to call on her, and treat
her as she deserves. Why, madam, you will have all London at your feet
after a season or two, and all the more if they know your story: or if
you don't like that, or if fools did talk at first, why we'd go and
live quietly at Kilanbaggan, or at Penalva, and you'd have all the
tenants looking up to you as a goddess, as I do, madam.--Oh, madam, I
would go anywhere, live anywhere, only to be with you!"
Marie was deeply affected. Making all allowances for the wilfulness of
youth, she could not but see that her origin formed no bar whatever to
her marrying a nobleman; and that he honestly believed that it would
form none in the opinion of his compeers, if she proved herself worthy
of his choice; and, full of new emotions, she burst into tears.
"There, now, you are melting: I knew you would! Madam! Signora?" and
Scoutbush advanced to take her hand.
"Never less," cried she, drawing back. "Do not;--you only make me
miserable! I tell you it is impossible. I cannot tell you all.--You
must not do yourself and yours such an injustice! Go, I tell you!"
Scoutbush still tried to take her hand.
"Go, I entreat you," cried she, at her wits' end, "or I will really
ring the bell for Mrs. Mellot!"
"You need not do that, madam," said he, drawing himself up; "I am not
in the habit of being troublesome to ladies, or being turned out of
drawing-rooms. I see how it is--" and his tone softened; "you despise
me, and think me a vain, frivolous puppy.--Well; I'll do something yet
that you shall not despise!" And he turned to go.
"I do not despise you; I think you a generous, high-hearted
gentleman--nobleman in all senses."
Scoutbush turned again.
"But, again, impossible! I shall always respect you; but we must never
She held out her hand. Little Freddy caught and kissed it till he was
breathless, and then rushed out, and blundered over Sabina in the next
"None." And though he tried to squeeze his eyes together very tight,
the great tears would come dropping down.
Sabina took him to a sofa, and sat him down while he made his little
"I told you that she was in love with the American."
"Then why don't he come back and marry her! Hang him, I'll go after
him and make him!" cried Scoutbush, glad of any object on which to
vent his wrath.
"You can't, for nobody knows where he is. Now do be good and patient;
you will forget all this."
"You will; not at first, but gradually; and marry some one really more
fit for you."
"Ah, but if I marry her I shan't love her; and then, you know, Mrs.
Mellot, I shall go to the bad again, just as much as ever. Oh, I was
trying to be steady for her sake!"
"You can be that still."
"Yes, but it's so hard, with nothing to hope for. I'm not fit to take
care of myself. I'm fit for nothing, I believe, but to go out and be
shot by those Russians; and I'll do it!"
"You must not; you are not strong enough. The doctors would not let
you go as you are."
"Then I'll get strong; I'll--"
"You'll go home, and be good."
"Ain't I good now?"
"Yes, you are a good, sensible fellow, and have behaved nobly, and I
honour you for it, and Claude shall come and see you every day."
That evening a note came from Scoutbush.
"DEAR MRS. MELLOT--Whom should I find when I went home, but Campbell?
I told him all; and he says that you and everybody have done quite
right, so I suppose you have; and that I am quite right in trying to
get out to the East, so I shall do it. But the doctor says I must
rest for six weeks at least. So Campbell has persuaded me to take the
yacht, which is at Southampton, and go down to Aberalva, and then
round to Snowdon, where I have a little slate-quarry, and get some
fishing. Campbell is coming with me, and I wish Claude would come too.
He knows that brother-in-law of mine, Vavasour, I think, and I shall
go and make friends with him. I've got very merciful to foolish lovers
lately, and Claude can help me to face him; for I am a little afraid
of genuises, you know. So there we'll pick up my sister (she goes down
by land this week), and then go on to Snowdon; and Claude can visit
his old quarters at the Royal Oak at Bettws, where he and I had that
jolly week among the painters. Do let him come, and beg La Signora not
to be angry with me. That's all I'll ever ask of her again."
"Poor fellow! But I can't part with you, Claude."
"Let him," said La Cordifiamma. "He will comfort his lordship; and do
you come with me."
"Come with you! Where!"
"I will tell you when Claude is gone."
"Claude, go and smoke in the garden. Now?"
"Come with me to Germany, Sabina."
"To Germany? Why on earth to Germany?"
"I--I only said Germany because it came first into my mind. Anywhere
for rest; anywhere to be out of that poor man's way."
"He will not trouble you any more; and you will not surely throw up
"Of course not!" said she, half peevishly. "It will be over in a
fortnight; and then I must have rest. Don't you see how I want rest?"
Sabina had seen it for some time past. That white cheek had been
fading more and more to a wax-like paleness; those black eyes
glittered with fierce unhealthy light; and dark rings round them told,
not merely of late hours and excitement, but of wild passion and
midnight tears. Sabina had seen all, and could not but give way, as
Marie went on.
"I must have rest, I tell you! I am beginning--I can confess all
to you--to want stimulants. I am beginning to long for brandy and
water--pah!--to nerve me up to the excitement of acting, and then for
morphine to make me sleep after it. The very eau de Cologne flask
tempts me! They say that the fine ladies use it, before a ball, for
other purposes than scent. You would not like to see me commence that
practice, would you?"
"There is no fear, dear."
"There is fear! You do not know the craving for exhilaration, the
capability of self-indulgence, in our wild Tropic blood. Oh, Sabina, I
feel at times that I could sink so low--that I could be so wicked, so
utterly wicked, if I once began! Take me away, dearest creature,
take me away, and let me have fresh air, and fair quiet scenes, and
rest--rest--oh, save me, Sabina!" and she put her hands over her face,
and burst into tears.
"We will go, then: to the Rhine, shall it be? I have not been there
now for these three years, and it will be such fun running about the
world by myself once more, and knowing all the while that--" and
Sabina stopped; she did not like to remind Marie of the painful
contrast between them.
"To the Rhine? Yes. And I shall see the beautiful old world, the old
vineyards, and castles, and hills, which he used to tell me of--taught
me to read of in those sweet, sweet books of Longfellow's! So gentle,
and pure, and calm--so unlike me!"
"Yes, we will see them; and perhaps--"
Marie looked up at her, guessing her thoughts, and blushed scarlet.
"You, too, think then, that--that--" she could not finish her
Sabina stooped over her, and the two beautiful mouths met.
"There, darling, we need say nothing. We are both women, and can talk
"Then you think there is hope!"
"Hope? Do you fancy that he is gone so very far? or that if he were, I
could not hunt him out? Have I wandered half round the world alone for
"No, but hope--hope that--"
"Not hope, but certainty; if some one I know had but courage."
"Courage--to do what!"
"To trust him utterly."
Marie covered her face with her hands, and shuddered in every limb.
"You know my story. Did I gain or lose by telling my Claude all?"
"I will!" she cried, looking up pale but firm. "I will!" and she
looked steadfastly into the mirror over the chimney-piece, as if
trying to court the reappearance of that ugly vision which haunted it,
and so to nerve herself to the utmost, and face the whole truth.
In little more than a fortnight, Sabina and Marie, with maid and
courier (for Marie was rich now), were away in the old Antwerpen.
And Claude was rolling down to Southampton by rail, with Campbell,
Scoutbush, and last, but not least, the faithful Bowie; who had under
his charge what he described to the puzzled railway-guard as "goads
and cleiks, and pirns and creels, and beuks and heuks, enough for a'
the cods o' Neufundland."
Elsley went on, between improved health and the fear of Tom Thurnall,
a good deal better for the next month. He began to look forward to
Valencia's visit with equanimity, and, at last, with interest; and was
rather pleased than otherwise when, in the last week of July, a fly
drove up to the gate of old Penalva Court, and he handed out therefrom
Valencia, and Valencia's maid.
Lucia had discovered that the wind was east, and that she was afraid
to go to the gate for fear of catching cold; her real purpose being,
that Valencia should meet Elsley first.
"She is so impulsive," thought the good little creature, always
plotting about her husband, "that she will rush upon me, and never see
him for the first five minutes; and Elsley is so sensitive--how can he
be otherwise, in his position, poor dear?" So she refrained herself,
like Joseph, and stood at the door till Valencia was half-way down the
garden-walk, having taken Elsley's somewhat shyly-offered arm; and
then she could refrain herself no longer, and the two women ran upon
each other, and kissed, and sobbed, and talked, till Lucia was out of
breath; but Valencia was not so easily silenced.
"My darling! and you are looking so much better than I expected; but
not quite yourself yet. That naughty baby is killing you, I am sure!
And Mr. Vavasour too, I shall begin to call him Elsley to-morrow, if
I like him as much as I do now--but he is looking quite thin--wearing
himself out with writing so many beautiful books,--that Wreck was
perfect! And where are the children?--I must rush upstairs and devour
them!--and what a delicious old garden! and clipt yews, too, so dark
and romantic, and such dear old-fashioned flowers!--Mr. Vavasour must
show me all over it, and over that hanging wood, too. What a duck of a
place!--And oh, my dear, I am quite out of breath!"
And so she swept in, with her arm round Lucia's waist; while Elsley
stood looking after her, well enough satisfied with her reception of
him, and only hoping that the stream of words would slaken after a
"What a magnificent creature!" said he to himself. "Who could believe
that the three years would make such a change!"
And he was right. The tall lithe girl had bloomed into full glory' and
Valencia St. Just, though not delicately beautiful, was as splendid
an Irish damsel as man need look upon, with a grand masque, aquiline
features, luxuriant black hair, and--though it was the fag-end of the
London season--the unrivalled Irish complexion, as of the fair dame of
"Lips were like roses, her cheeks were the same,
Like a dish of fresh strawberries smother'd in crame."
Her figure was perhaps too tall, and somewhat too stout also; but its
size was relieved by the delicacy of those hands and feet of which
Miss Valencia was most pardonably proud, and by that indescribable
lissomeness and lazy grace which Irishwomen inherit, perhaps, with
their tinge of southern blood; and when, in half an hour, she
reappeared, with broad straw-hat, and gown tucked up _a la bergere_
over the striped Welsh petticoat, perhaps to show off the ankles,
which only looked the finer for a pair of heavy laced boots, Elsley
honestly felt it a pleasure to look at her, and a still greater
pleasure to talk to her, and to be talked to by her; while she, bent
on making herself agreeable, partly from real good taste, partly from
natural good-nature, and partly, too, because she saw in his eyes that
he admired her, chatted sentiment about all heaven and earth.
For to Miss Valencia--it is sad to have to say it--admiration had been
now, for three years, her daily bread. She had lived in the thickest
whirl of the world, and, as most do for a while, found it a very
She had flirted--with how many must not be told; and perhaps with more
than one with whom she had no business to flirt. Little Scoutbush had
remonstrated with her on some such affair, but she had silenced him
with an Irish jest,--"You're a fisherman, Freddy; and when you can't
catch salmon, you catch trout; and when you can't catch trout, you'll
whip on the shallow for poor little gubbahawns, and say that it is all
to keep your hand in--and so do I."
The old ladies said that this was the reason why she had not married;
the men, however, asserted that no one dare marry her; and one
club-oracle had given it as his opinion that no man in his rational
senses was to be allowed to have anything to do with her, till she had
been well jilted two or three times, to take the spirit out of her:
but that catastrophe had not yet occurred, and Miss Valencia still
reigned "triumphant and alone," though her aunt, old Lady Knockdown,
moved all the earth, and some dirty places, too, below the earth, to
get the wild Irish girl off her hands; "for," quoth she, "I feel with
Valencia, indeed, just like one of those men who carry about little
dogs in the Quadrant. I always pity the poor men so, and think how
happy they must be when they have sold one. It is one chance less, you
know, of having it bite them horribly, and then run away after all."
There was, however, no more real harm in Valencia, than there is in
every child of Adam. Town frivolity had not corrupted her. She was
giddy, given up to enjoyment of the present: but there was not a
touch, of meanness about her: and if she was selfish, as every one
must needs be whose thoughts are of pleasure, admiration, and success,
she was so unintentionally; and she would have been shocked and pained
at being told that she was anything but the most kind-hearted and
generous creature on earth. Major Campbell, who was her Mentor as well
as her brother's, had certainly told her so more than once; at which
she had pouted a good deal, and cried a little, and promised to amend;
then packed up a heap of cast-off things to send to Lucia--half of it
much too fine to be of any use to the quiet little woman; and lastly,
gone out and bought fresh finery for herself, and forgot all her good
resolutions. Whereby it befell that she was tolerably deep in debt at
the end of every season, and had to torment and kiss Scoutbush into
paying her bills, which he did, like a good brother, and often before
he had paid his own.
But, howsoever full Valencia's head may have been of fine garments and
London flirtations, she had too much tact and good feeling to talk
that evening of a world of which even Elsley knew more than her
sister. For poor Lucia had been but eighteen at the time of her
escapade, and had not been presented twelve months; so that she was
as "inexperienced" as any one can be, who has only a husband, three
children, and a household to manage on less than three hundred a year.
Therefore Valencia talked only of things which would interest Elsley;
asked him to read his last new poem--which, I need not say, he did;
told him how she devoured everything he wrote; planned walks with him
in the country; seemed to consult his pleasure in every way.
"To-morrow morning I shall sit with you and the children, Lucia; of
course I must not interrupt Mr. Vavasour: but really in the afternoon
I must ask him to spare a couple of hours from the Muses."
Vavasour was delighted to do anything--"Where would she walk?"
"Where? of course to see the beautiful schoolmistress who saved the
man from drowning; and then to see the chasm across which he was
swept. I shall understand your poem so much better, you know, if I
can but realise the people and the place. And you must take me to see
Captain Willis, too, and even the Lieutenant--if he does not smell too
much of brandy. I will be so gracious and civil, quite the lady of the
"You will make quite a royal progress," said Lucia, looking at her
with sisterly admiration.
"Yes, I intend to usurp as many of Scoutbush's honours as I can till
he comes. I must lay down the sceptre in a fortnight, you know, so I
shall make as much use of it as I can meanwhile."
And so on, and so on; meaning all the while to put Elsley quite at his
ease, and let him understand that bygones were bygones, and that with
her any reconciliation at all was meant to be a complete one; which
was wise and right enough. But Valencia had not counted on the
excitable and vain nature with which she was dealing; and Lucia, who
had her own fears from the first evening, was the last person in the
world to tell her of it; first from pride in herself, and then from
pride in her husband. For even if a woman has made a foolish match, it
is hard to expect her to confess as much: and, after all, a husband
is a husband, and let his faults be what they might, he was still
her Elsley; her idol once; and perhaps (so she hoped) her idol again
hereafter, and if not, still he was her husband, and that was enough.
"By which you mean, sir, that she considers herself bound to endure
everything and anything from him, simply because she had been married
to him in church?"
Yes, and a great deal more. Not merely being married in church; but
what being married in church means, and what every woman who is a
woman understands; and lives up to without flinching, though she die
a martyr for it, or a confessor; a far higher saint, if the truth was
known, as it will be some day, than all the holy virgins who ever
fasted and prayed in a convent since the days when Macarius first
turned fakeer. For to a true woman, the mere fact of a man's being
her husband, put it on the lowest ground that you choose, is utterly
sacred, divine, all-powerful; in the might of which she can conquer
self in a way which is an everyday miracle; and the man who does not
feel about the mere fact of a woman's having given herself utterly to
him, just what she herself feels about it, ought to be despised by all
his fellows;--were it not that, in that case, it would be necessary to
despise more human beings than is safe for the soul of any man.
That fortnight was the sunniest which Elsley had passed, since he made
secret love to Lucia in Eaton Square. Romantic walks, the company of a
beautiful woman as ready to listen as she was to talk, free licence to
pour out all his fancies, sure of admiration, if not of flattery, and
pardonably satisfied vanity--all these are comfortable things for most
men, who have nothing better to comfort them. But, on the whole, this
feast did not make Elsley a better or a wiser man at home. Why
should it? Is a boy's digestion improved by turning him loose into a
confectioner's shop? And thus the contrast between what he chose to
call Valencia's sympathy, and Lucia's want of sympathy, made him,
unfortunately, all the more cross to her when they were alone; and
who could blame the poor little woman for saying one night, angrily
"Ah, yes! Valencia,--Valencia is imaginative--Valencia understands
you--Valencia sympathises--Valencia thinks ... Valencia has no
children to wash and dress, no accounts to keep, no linen to
mend--Valencia's back does not ache all day long, so that she would be
glad enough to lie on the sofa from morning till night, if she was not
forced to work whether she can work or not. No, no; don't kiss me, for
kisses will not make up for injustice, Elsley. I only trust that you
will not tempt me to hate my own sister. No: don't talk to me now,
let me sleep if I can sleep; and go and walk and talk sentiment with
Valencia to-morrow, and leave the poor little brood hen to sit on
her nest, and be despised." And refusing all Elsley's entreaties for
pardon, she sulked herself to sleep.
Who can blame her? If there is one thing more provoking than another
to a woman, it is to see her husband Strass-engel, Haus-teufel, an
angel of courtesy to every woman but herself; to see him in society
all smiles and good stories, the most amiable and self-restraining of
men; perhaps to be complimented on his agreeableness: and to know all
the while that he is penning up all the accumulated ill-temper of the
day, to let it out on her when they get home; perhaps in the very
carriage as soon as it leaves the door. Hypocrites that you are,
some of you gentlemen! Why cannot the act against cruelty to women,
corporal punishment included, be brought to bear on such as you? And
yet, after all, you are not most to blame in the matter: Eve herself
tempts you, as at the beginning; for who does not know that the man is
a thousand times vainer than the woman? He does but follow the analogy
of all nature. Look at the Red Indian, in that blissful state of
nature from which (so philosophers inform those who choose to believe
them) we all sprang. Which is the boaster, the strutter, the bedizener
of his sinful carcase with feathers and beads, fox-tails and bears'
claws,--the brave, or his poor little squaw? An Australian settler's
wife bestows on some poor slaving gin a cast-off French bonnet; before
she has gone a hundred yards, her husband snatches it off, puts it on
his own mop, quiets her for its loss with a tap of the waddie, and
struts on in glory. Why not? Has he not the analogy of all nature
on his side? Have not the male birds and the male moths, the fine
feathers, while the females go soberly about in drab and brown? Does
the lioness, or the lion, rejoice in the grandeur of a mane; the hind,
or the stag, in antlered pride? How know we but that, in some more
perfect and natural state of society, the women will dress like so
many quakeresses; while the frippery shops will become the haunts
of men alone, and "browches, pearls and owches be consecrate to
the nobler sex?" There are signs already, in the dress of our young
gentlemen, of such a return to the law of nature from the present
absurd state of things, in which the human peahens carry about the
gaudy trains which are the peacocks' right.
For there is a secret feeling in woman's heart that she is in her
wrong place; that it is she who ought to worship the man, and not the
man her; and when she becomes properly conscious of her destiny, has
not he a right to be conscious of his? If the grey hens will stand
round in the mire clucking humble admiration, who can blame the old
blackcock for dancing and drumming on the top of a moss hag, with
outspread wings and flirting tail, glorious and self-glorifying. He is
a splendid fellow; and he was made splendid for some purpose surely?
Why did Nature give him his steel-blue coat, and his crimson
crest, but for the very same purpose that she gave Mr. A---- his
intellect--to be admired by the other sex? And if young damsels,
overflowing with sentiment and Ruskinism, will crowd round him, ask
his opinion of this book and that picture, treasure his bon-mots, beg
for his autograph, looking all the while the praise which they do not
speak (though they speak a good deal of it), and when they go home
write letters to him on matters about which in old times girls used to
ask only their mothers;--who can blame him if he finds the little wife
at home a very uninteresting body, whose head is so full of petty
cares and gossip, that he and all his talents are quite unappreciated?
_Les femmes incomprises_ of France used to (perhaps do now) form a
class of married ladies, whose sorrows were especially dear to the
novelists, male or female; but what are their woes compared to those
of _l'homme incompris?_ What higher vocation for a young maiden than
to comfort the martyr during his agonies? And, most of all, where the
sufferer is not merely a genius, but a saint; persecuted, perhaps,
abroad by vulgar tradesmen and Philistine bishops, and snubbed at home
by a stupid wife, who is quite unable to appreciate his magnificent
projects for regenerating all heaven and earth; and only, humdrum,
practical creature that she is, tries to do justly, and love mercy,
and walk humbly with her God? Fly to his help, all pious maidens,
and pour into the wounded heart of the holy man the healing balm of
self-conceit; cover his table with confidential letters, choose him as
your father-confessor, and lock yourself up alone with him for an
hour or two every week, while the wife is mending his shirts
upstairs.--True, you may break the stupid wife's heart by year-long
misery, as she slaves on, bearing the burden and heat of the day, of
which you never dream; keeping the wretched man, by her unassuming
good example, from making a fool of himself three times a week; and
sowing the seed of which you steal the fruit. What matter? If your
immortal soul requires it, what matter what it costs her carnal heart?
She will suffer in silence; at least, she will not tell you. You think
she does not understand you. Well;--and she thinks in return that you
do not understand her, and her married joys and sorrows, and her five
children, and her butcher's bills, and her long agony of fear for the
husband of whom she is ten times more proud than you could be; for
whom she has slaved for years; whose defects she has tried to cure,
while she cured her own; for whom she would die to-morrow, did he fall
into disgrace, when you had flounced off to find some new idol: and so
she will not tell you: and what the ear heareth not, that the heart
grieveth not.--Go on and prosper! You may, too, ruin the man's
spiritual state by vanity: you may pamper his discontent with the
place where God has put him, till he ends by flying off to "some
purer Communion," and taking you with him. Never mind. He is a most
delightful person, and his intercourse is so improving. Why were sweet
things made, but to be eaten? Go on and prosper.
Ah, young ladies, if some people had (as it is perhaps well for them
that they have not) the ordering of this same British nation, they
would certainly follow your example, and try to restore various
ancient institutions. And first among them would be that very ancient
institution of the cucking-stool; to be employed however, not as of
old, against married scolds (for whom those who have been behind
the scenes have all respect and sympathy), but against unmarried
prophetesses, who, under whatsoever high pretence of art or religion,
flirt with their neighbours' husbands, be they parson or poet.
Not, be it understood, that Valencia had the least suspicion that
Elsley considered himself "incompris." If he had hinted the notion
to her, she would have resented it as an insult to the St. Justs
in general, and to her sister in particular; and would have said
something to him in her off-hand way, the like whereof he had seldom
heard, even from adverse reviewers.
Elsley himself soon divined enough of her character to see that he
must keep his sorrows to himself, if he wished for Valencia's good
opinion; and soon,--so easily does a vain man lend himself to
meanness--he found himself trying to please Valencia, by praising to
her the very woman with whom he was discontented. He felt shocked and
ashamed when first his own baseness flashed across him: but the bait
was too pleasant to be left easily: and, after all, he was trying to
say to his guest what he knew his guest would like; and what was that
but following those very rules of good society, for breaking which
Lucia was always calling him gauche and morose? So he actually quieted
his own conscience by the fancy that he was bound to be civil, and to
keep up appearances, "even for Lucia's sake," said the self-deceiver
to himself. And thus the mischief was done; and the breach between
Lucia and her husband, which had been somewhat bridged over during the
last month or two, opened more wide than ever, without a suspicion on
Valencia's part that she was doing all she could to break her sister's
She, meanwhile, had plenty of reasons which justified her new intimacy
to herself. How could she better please Lucia? How better show that
bygones were to be bygones, and that Elsley was henceforth to be
considered as one of the family, than by being as intimate as possible
with him? What matter how intimate? For, after all, he was only a
brother, and she his sister.
She had law on her side in that last argument, as well as love of
amusement. Whether she had either common sense or Scripture, is a very
Poor Lucia, too, tried to make the best of the matter; and to take the
new intimacy as Valencia would have had her take it, in the light of a
compliment to herself; and so, in her pride, she said to Valencia, and
told her that she should love her for ever for her kindness to Elsley,
while her heart was ready to burst.
But ere the fortnight was over the Nemesis had come, and Lucia, woman
as she was, could not repress a thrill of malicious joy, even though
Elsley became more intolerable than ever at the change.
What was the Nemesis, then?
Simply that this naughty Miss St. Just began to smile upon Frank
Headley the curate, even as she had smiled upon Elsley Vavasour.
It was very naughty; but she had her excuses. She had found Elsley
out; and it was well for both of them that she had done so. Already,
upon the strength of their supposed relationship, she had allowed him
to talk a great deal more nonsense to her,--harmless perhaps, but
nonsense still,--than she would have listened to from any other
man; and it was well for both of them that Elsley was a man without
self-control who began to show the weak side of his character freely
enough, as soon as he became at ease with his companion, and excited
by conversation. Valencia quickly saw that he was vain as a peacock,
and weak enough to be led by her in any and every direction, when she
chose to work on his vanity. And she despised him accordingly, and
suspected, too, that her sister could not be very happy with such a
None are more quick than sisters-in-law to see faults in the
brother-in-law, when once they have begun to look for them; and
Valencia soon remarked that Elsley showed Lucia no _petits soins_,
while he was ready enough to show them to her; that he took no real
trouble about his children, or about anything else; and twenty more
faults, which she might have perceived in the first two days of her
visit, if she had not been in such a hurry to amuse herself. But she
was too delicate to ask Lucia the truth, and contented herself with
watching all parties closely, and in amusing herself meanwhile--for
amusement she must have--in
"Breaking a country heart
For pastime, ere she went to town."
She had met Frank several times about the parish and in the schools,
and had been struck at once with his grace and high breeding, and with
that air of melancholy which is always interesting in a true woman's
eyes. She had seen, too, that Elsley tried to avoid him, naturally
enough not wishing an intrusion on their pleasant _tetes-a-tete._
Whereon, half to spite Elsley, and half to show her own right to
chat with whom she chose, she made Lucia ask Frank to tea; and next
contrived to go to the school when he was teaching there, and to make
Elsley ask him to walk with them; and all the more, because she had
discovered that Elsley had discontinued his walks with Frank, as soon
as she had appeared at Penalva.
Lucia was not sorry to countenance her in her naughtiness; it was a
comfort to her to have a fourth person in the room at times, and thus
to compel Elsley and Valencia to think of something beside each other;
and when she saw her sister gradually transferring her favours from
the married to the unmarried victim, she would have been more than
woman if she had not rejoiced thereat. Only, she began soon to be
afraid for Frank, and at last told Valencia so.
"Do take care that you do not break his heart!"
"My dear! You forget that I sit under Mr. O'Blareaway, and am to him
as a heathen and a publican. Fresh from St. Nepomuc's as he is, he
would as soon think of falling in love with an 'Oirish Prodestant,'
as with a malignant and a turbaned Turk. Besides, my dear, if the
mischief is going to be done, it's done already."
"I dare say it is, you naughty beautiful thing. If anybody is goose
enough to fall in love with you, he'll be also goose enough, I don't
doubt, to do so at first sight. There, don't look perpetually in that
glass: but take care!"
"What use? If it is going to happen at all, I say, it has happened
already; so I shall just please myself, as usual."
And it had happened: and poor Frank had been, ever since the first day
he saw Valencia, over head and ears in love. His time had come, and
there was no escaping his fate.
But to escape he tried. Convinced, with many good men of all ages and
creeds, that a celibate life was the fittest one for a clergyman, he
had fled from St. Nepomuc's into the wilderness to avoid temptation,
and beheld at his cell-door a fairer fiend than ever came to St.
Dunstan. A fairer fiend, no doubt; for St. Dunstan's imagination
created his temptress for him, but Valencia was a reality: and fact
and nature may be safely backed to produce something more charming
than any monk's brain can do. One questions whether St. Dunstan's
apparition was not something as coarse as his own mind, clever though
that mind was. At least, he would never have had the heart to apply
the hot tongs to such a nose as Valencia's, but at most have bowed
her out pityingly, as Frank tried to bow out Valencia from the sacred
place of his heart, but failed.
Hard he tried, and humbly too. He had no proud contempt for married
parsons. He was ready enough to confess, that he, too, might be weak
in that respect, as in a hundred others. He conceived that he had no
reason, from his own inner life, to believe himself worthy of any
higher vocation--proving his own real nobleness of soul by that very
humility. He had rather not marry. He might do so some day: but he
would sacrifice much to avoid the necessity. If he was weak, he would
use what strength he had to the uttermost ere he yielded. And all the
more, because he felt, and reasonably enough, that Valencia was the
last woman in the world to make a parson's wife. He had his ideal of
what such a wife should be, if she were to be allowed to exist at
all--the same ideal which Mr. Paget has drawn in his charming little
book (would that all parsons' wives would read and perpend), the
"Owlet of Owlstone Edge." But Valencia would surely not make a
Beatrice. Beautiful she was, glorious, lovable, but not the helpmeet
whom he needed. And he fought against the new dream like a brave man.
He fasted, he wept, he prayed: but his prayers seemed not to be heard.
Valencia seemed to have enthroned herself, a true Venus victrix, in
the centre of his heart, and would not be dispossessed. He tried
to avoid seeing her: but even for that he had not strength: more
miserable each time, as fierce against himself and his own weakness as
if he had given way to wine or to oaths. In vain, too, he represented
to himself the ridiculous hopelessness of his passion; the
impossibility of the London beauty ever stooping to marry the poor
country curate. Fancies would come in, how such things, strange as
they might seem, had happened already; might happen again. It was a
class of marriages for which he had always felt a strong dislike, even
suspicion and contempt; and though he was far more fitted, in family
as well as personal excellence, for such a match, than three out of
four who make them, yet he shrank with disgust from the notion of
being himself classed at last among the match-making parsons. Whether
there was "carnal pride" or not in that last thought, his soul so
loathed it, that he would gladly have thrown up his cure at Aberalva;
and would have done so actually, but for one word which Tom Thurnall
had spoken to him, and that was--Cholera.
That the cholera might come; that it probably would come, in the
course of the next two months, was news to him which was enough to
keep him at his post, let what would be the consequence. And gradually
he began to see a way out of his difficulty--and a very simple one;
and that was to die.
"That is the solution after all," said he. "I am not strong enough for
God's work: but I will not shrink from it, if I can help. If I cannot
master it, let it kill me; so at least I may have peace. I have failed
utterly here: all my grand plans have crumbled to ashes between my
fingers. I find myself a cumberer of the ground, where I fancied that
I was going forth like a very Michael--fool that I was!--leader of
the armies of heaven. And now, in the one remaining point on which
I thought myself strong, I find myself weakest of all. Useless and
helpless! I have one chance left, one chance to show these poor souls
that I really love them, really wish their good--Selfish that I am!
What matter whether I do show it or not? What need to justify myself
to them? Self, self, creeping in everywhere! I shall begin next, I
suppose, longing for the cholera to come, that I may show off myself
in it, and make spiritual capital out of their dying agonies! Ah me!
that it were all over!--That this cholera, if it is to come, would
wipe out of this head what I verily believe nothing but death will
do!" And therewith Frank laid his head on the table, and cried till he
could cry no more.
It was not over manly: but he was weakened with overwork and sorrow:
and, on the whole, it was perhaps the best thing he could do; for he
fell asleep there, with his head on the table, and did not wake till
the dawn blazed through his open window.
THE DOCTOR AT BAY.
Did you ever, in a feverish dream, climb a mountain which grew higher
and higher as you climbed; and scramble through passages which changed
perpetually before you, and up and down break-neck stairs which broke
off perpetually behind you? Did you ever spend the whole night, foot
in stirrup, mounting that phantom hunter which never gets mounted, or,
if he does, turns into a pen between your knees; or in going to fish
that phantom stream which never gets fished? Did you ever, late
for that mysterious dinner-party in some enchanted castle, wander
disconsolately, in unaccountable rags and dirt, in search of that
phantom carpet-bag which never gets found? Did you ever "realise" to
yourself the sieve of the Danaides, the stone of Sisyphus, the wheel
of Ixion; the pleasure of shearing that domestic animal who (according
to the experience of a very ancient observer of nature) produces more
cry than wool; the perambulation of that Irishman's model bog, where
you slip two steps backward for one forward, and must, therefore, in
order to progress at all, turn your face homeward, and progress as
a pig does into a steamer, by going the opposite way? Were you ever
condemned to spin ropes of sand to all eternity, like Tregeagle the
wrecker; or to extract the cube roots of a million or two of hopeless
surds, like the mad mathematician; or last, and worst of all, to work
the Nuisances Removal Act? Then you can enter, as a man and a brother,
into the sorrows of Tom Thurnall, in the months of June and July,
He had made up his mind, for certain good reasons of his own, that the
cholera ought to visit Aberalva in the course of the summer; and, of
course, tried his best to persuade people to get ready for their ugly
visitor: but in vain. The cholera come there? Why, it never had come
yet, which signified, when he inquired a little more closely, that
there had been only one or two doubtful cases in 1837, and five or six
in 1849. In vain he answered, "Very well; and is not that a proof that
the causes of cholera are increasing here? If you had one case the
first time, and five times as many the next, by the same rule you will
have five times as many more if it comes this summer."
"Nonsense! Aberalva was the healthiest town on the coast."
"Well but," would Tom say, "in the census before last, you had a
population of 1300 in 112 houses, and that was close packing enough,
in all conscience: and in the last census I find you had a population
of over 1400, which must have increased since; and there are eight or
nine old houses in the town pulled down, or turned into stores; so you
are more closely packed than ever. And mind, it may seem no very great
difference; but it is the last drop that fills the cup."
What had that to do with cholera? And more than one gave him to
understand that he must be either a very silly or a very impertinent
person, to go poking into how many houses there were in the town, and
how many people lived in each. Tardrew, the steward, indeed, said
openly, that Mr. Thurnall was making disturbance enough in people's
property up at Pentremochyn, without bothering himself with Aberalva
too. He had no opinion of people who had a finger in everybody's pie.
Whom Tom tried to soothe with honeyed words, knowing him to be of the
original British bulldog breed, which, once stroked against the hair,
shows his teeth at you for ever afterwards.
But staunch was Tardrew, unfortunately on the wrong side; and backed
by the collective ignorance, pride, laziness, and superstition
of Aberalva, showed to his new assailant that terrible front of
stupidity, against which, says Schiller, "the gods themselves fight in
"Does he think we was all fools afore he came here?"
That was the rallying cry of the Conservative party, worshippers of
Baalzebub, god of flies, and of that (so say Syrian scholars) from
which flies are bred. And, indeed, there were excuses for them, on the
Yankee ground, that "there's a deal of human natur' in man." It is
hard to human nature to make all the humiliating confessions which
must precede sanitary repentance; to say, "I have been a very nasty,
dirty fellow. I have lived contented in evil smells, till I care for
them no more than my pig does. I have refused to understand Nature's
broadest hints, that anything which is so disagreeable is not meant to
be left about. I have probably been more or less the cause of half my
own illnesses, and of three-fourths of the illness of my children; for
aught I know, it is very much my fault that my own baby has died of
scarlatina, and two or three of my tenants of typhus. No, hang it!
that's too much to make any man confess to! I'll prove my innocence
by not reforming!" So sanitary reform is thrust out of sight, simply
because its necessity is too humiliating to the pride of all, too
frightful to the consciences of many.
Tom went to Trebooze.
"Mr. Trebooze, you are a man of position in the county, and own some
houses in Aberalva. Don't you think you could use your influence in
"Own some houses? Yes,"--and Mr. Trebooze consigned the said cottages
to a variety of unmentionable places; "cost me more in rates than they
bring in in rent, even if I get the rent paid. I should like to get a
six-pounder, and blow the whole lot into the sea. Cholera coming, eh?
D'ye think it will he there before Michaelmas?"
"Pity I can't clear 'em out before Michaelmas. Else I'd have ejected
the lot, and pulled the houses down."
"I think something should be done meanwhile, though, towards cleansing
"---- Let 'em cleanse them themselves! Soap's cheap enough with your
---- free trade, ain't it! No, sir! That sort of talk will do well
enough for my Lord Minchampstead, sir, the old money-lending Jew! ----
but gentlemen, sir, gentlemen, that are half-ruined with free trade,
and your Whig policy, sir, you must give 'em back their rights before
they can afford to throw away their money on cottages. Cottages,
indeed! ---- upstart of a cotton-spinner, coming down here, buying
the lands over our heads, and pretends to show us how to manage our
estates; old families that have been in the county this four hundred
years, with the finest peasantry in the world ready to die for them,
sir, till these new revolutionary doctrines came in--Pride and
purse-proud conceit, just to show off his money! What do they want
with better cottages than their fathers had? Only put notions into
their heads, raise 'em above their station; more they have, more
they'll want. ---- sir, make chartists of 'em all before he's done!
I'll tell you what, sir,"--and Mr. Trebooze attempted a dignified and
dogmatic tone--"I never told it you before, because you were my very
good friend, sir: but my opinion is, sir, that by what you're doing
up at Pentremochyn, you're just spreading chartism--chartism, sir! Of
course I know nothing. Of course I'm nobody, in these days: but that's
my opinion, sir, and you've got it!"
By which motion Tom took little. Mighty is envy always, and mighty
ignorance: but you become aware of their truly Titanic grandeur only
when you attempt to touch their owner's pocket.
Tom tried old Heale: but took as little in that quarter. Heale had
heard of sanitary reform, of course; but he knew nothing about it, and
gave a general assent to Tom's doctrines, for fear of exposing his own
ignorance: acting on them was a very different matter. It is always
hard for an old medical man to confess that anything has been
discovered since the days of his youth; and beside, there were other
reasons behind, which Heale tried to avoid giving; and therefore
fenced off, and fenced off, till, pressed hard by Tom, wrath came
forth, and truth with it.
"And what be you thinking of, sir, to expect me to offend all my best
patients? and not one of 'em but rents some two cottages, some a
dozen. And what'll they say to me if I go a routing and rookling in
their drains, like an old sow by the wayside, beside putting 'em to
all manner of expense? And all on the chance of this cholera coming,
which I have no faith in, nor in this new-fangled sanitary reform
neither, which is all a dodge for a lot of young Government puppies to
fill their pockets, and rule and ride over us: and my opinion always
was with the Bible, that 'tis jidgment, sir, a jidgment of God, and we
can't escape His holy will, and that's the plain truth of it."
Tom made no answer to that latter argument. He had heard that "'tis
jidgment" from every mouth during the last few days; and had mortally
offended the Brianite preacher that very morning, by answering his
"'tis jidgment" with--
"But, my good sir! the Bible, I thought, says that Aaron stayed the
plague among the Israelites, and David the one at Jerusalem."
"Sir, those was miracles, sir! and they was under the Law, sir, and
we'm under the Gospel, you'll be pleased to remember."
"Humph!" said Tom, "then, by your showing, they were better off under
the Law than we are now, if they could have their plagues stopped by
miracles; and we cannot have ours stopped at all."
"Sir, be you an infidel?"
To which there was no answer to be made.
In this case, Tom answered Heale with--
"But, my dear sir, if you don't like (as is reasonable enough) to take
the responsibility on yourself, why not go to the Board of Guardians,
and get them to put the Act in force?"
"Boord, sir? and do you know so little of Boords as that? Why, there
ain't one of them but owns cottages themselves, and it's as much as my
place is worth--"
"Your place as medical officer is just worth nothing, as you know;
you'll have been out of pocket by it seven or eight pounds this year,
even if no cholera comes."
Tom knew the whole state of the case; but he liked tormenting Heale
now and then.
"Well, sir! but if I get turned out next year, in steps that Drew over
at Carcarrow Churchtown into my district, and into the best of my
practice, too. I wonder what sort of a Poor Law district you were
medical officer of, if you don't know yet that that's why we take to
"My dear sir, I know it, and a good deal more beside."
"Then why go bothering me this way?"
"Why," said Tom, "it's pleasant to have old notions confirmed as often
"'Life is a jest, and all things show it;
I thought so once, but now I know it.'
What an ass the fellow must have been who had that put on his
tombstone, not to have found it out many a year before he died!"
He went next to Headley the curate, and took little by that move;
though more than by any other.
For Frank already believed his doctrines, as an educated London parson
of course would; was shocked to hear that they were likely to become
fact so soon and so fearfully; offered to do all he could: but
confessed that he could do nothing.
"I have been hinting to them, ever since I came, improvements in
cleanliness, in ventilation, and so forth: but I have been utterly
unheeded: and bully me as you will, Doctor, about my cramming
doctrines down their throats, and roaring like a Pope's bull, I assure
you that, on sanitary reform, my roaring was as of a sucking dove, and
ought to have prevailed, if soft persuasion can."
"You were a dove where you ought to have been a bull, and a bull where
you ought to have been a dove. But roar now, if ever you roared, in
the pulpit and out. Why not preach to them on it next Sunday?"
"Well, I'd give a lecture gladly, if I could get any one to come and
hear it; but that you could do better than me."
"I'll lecture them myself, and show them bogies, if my quarter-inch
will do its work. If they want seeing to believe, see they shall; I
have half-a-dozen specimens of water already which will astonish them.
Let me lecture, you must preach."
"You must know, that there is a feeling,--you would call it a
prejudice,--against introducing such purely secular subjects into the
Tom gave a long whistle.
"Pardon me, Mr. Headley; you are a man of sense; and I can speak to
you as one human being to another, which I have seldom been able to do
with your respected cloth."
"Say on; I shall not be frightened."
"Well, don't you put up the Ten Commandments in your Church?"
"And don't one of them run: 'Thou shalt not kill.'"
"And is not murder a moral offence--what you call a sin?"
"If you saw your parishioners in the habit of cutting each other's
throats, or their own, shouldn't you think that a matter spiritual
enough to be a fit subject for a little of the drum ecclesiastic?"
"Well? Ill! There are your parishioners about to commit wholesale
murder and suicide, and is that a secular question? If they don't know
the fact, is not that all the more reason for your telling them of it?
You pound away, as I warned you once, at the sins of which they are
just as well aware as you; why on earth do you hold your tongue about
the sins of which they are not aware? You tell us every Sunday that we
do Heaven only knows how many more wrong things than we dream of.
Tell it us again now. Don't strain at gnats like want of faith and
resignation, and swallow such a camel as twenty or thirty deaths.
It's no concern of mine; I've seen plenty of people murdered, and may
again: I am accustomed to it; but if it's not your concern, what on
earth you are here for is more than I can tell."
"You are right--you are right; but how to put it on religious
Tom whistled again.
"If your doctrines cannot be made to fit such plain matters as twenty
deaths, _tant pis pour eux_. If they have nothing to say on such
scientific facts, why the facts must take care of themselves, and the
doctrines may, for aught I care, go and--. But I won't be really rude.
Only think over the matter. If you are God's minister, you ought to
have something to say about God's view of a fact which certainly
involves the lives of his creatures, not by twos and threes, but by
tens of thousands."
So Frank went home, and thought it through; and went once and again to
Thurnall, and condescended to ask his opinion of what he had said,
and whether he said ill or well. What Thurnall answered was--"Whether
that's sound Church doctrine is your business; but if it be, I'll
say with the man there in the Acts--what was his name?--'Almost thou
persuadest me to be a Christian.'"
"Would God that you were one! for you would make a right good one."
"Humph! at least you see what you can do, if you'll only face fact as
it stands, and talk about the realities of life. I'll puff your sermon
beforehand, I assure you, and bring all I can to hear it."
So Frank preached a noble sermon, most rational, and most spiritual
withal; but he, too, like his tutor, took little by his motion.
All the present fruit upon which he had to congratulate himself was,
that the Brianite preacher denounced him in chapel next Sunday as a
German Rationalist, who impiously pretended to explain away the Lord's
visitation into a carnal matter of drains, and pipes, and gases, and
such like; and that his rival of another denomination, who was a
fanatic on the teetotal question, denounced him as bitterly for
supporting the cause of drunkenness, by attributing cholera to want of
cleanliness, while all rational people knew that its true source was
intemperance. Poor Frank! he had preached against drunkenness many
a time and oft: but because he would not add a Mohammedan eleventh
commandment to those ten which men already find difficulty enough in
keeping, he was set upon at once by a fanatic whose game it was--as it
is that of too many--to snub sanitary reform, and hinder the spread of
plain scientific truth, for the sake of pushing their own nostrum for
all human ills.
In despair, Tom went off to Elsley Vavasour. Would he help? Would he
join, as one of two householders, in making a representation to the
Elsley had never mixed in local matters: and if he had, he knew
nothing of how to manage men, or to read an Act of Parliament; so,
angry as Tom was inclined to be with him, he found it useless to
quarrel with a man so utterly unpractical, who would, probably, had he
been stirred into exertion, have done more harm than good.
"Only come with me, and satisfy yourself as to the existence of one of
these nuisances, and then you will have grounds on which to go," said
Tom, who had still hopes of making a cat's-paw of Elsley, and by his
power over him, pulling the strings from behind.
Sorely against his will, Elsley went, saw, and smelt; came home again;
was very unwell; and was visited nightly for a week after that by that
most disgusting of all phantoms, sanitary nightmare; which some
who have worked in the foul places of the earth know but too well.
Evidently his health could not stand it. There was no work to be got
out of him in that direction.
"Would he write, then, and represent matters to Lord Scoutbush?"
How could he? He did not know the man; not a line had ever been
exchanged between them. Their relations were so very peculiar. It
would seem sheer impertinence on his part to interfere with the
management of Lord Scoutbush's property. Really there was a great deal
to be said, Tom felt, for poor Elsley's dislike of meddling in that
"Would Mrs. Vavasour write, then?"
"For Heaven's sake do not mention it to her. She would be so terrified
about the children; she is worn out with anxiety already,"--and so
Tom went back to Frank Headley.
"You see a good deal of Miss St. Just."
"I?--No--why?--what?" said poor Frank, blushing.
"Only that you must make her write to her brother about this cholera."
"My dear fellow, it is such a subject for a lady to meddle with."
"It has no scruple in meddling with ladies; so ladies ought to have
none in meddling with it. You must do it as delicately as you will:
but done it must be: it is our only chance. Tell her of Tardrew's
obstinacy, or Scoutbush will go by his opinion; and tell her to keep
the secret from her sister."
Frank did it, and well. Valencia was horror-struck, and wrote.
Scoutbush was away at sea, nobody knew where; and a full fortnight
elapsed before an answer came.
"My dear, you are quite mistaken if you think I can do anything.
Nine-tenths of the houses in Aberalva are not in my hands; but
copyholds and long leases, over which I have no power. If the people
will complain to me of any given nuisance, I'll right it if I can; and
if the doctor wants money, and sees any ways of laying it out well, he
shall have what he wants, though I am very high in Queer Street just
now, ma'am, having paid your bills before I left town, like a good
brother: but I tell you again, I have no more power than you have,
except over a few cottages, and Tardrew assured me, three weeks ago,
that they were as comfortable as they ever had been."
So Tardrew had forestalled Thurnall in writing to the Viscount. Well,
there was one more chance to be tried.
Tom gave his lecture in the school-room. He showed them magnified
abominations enough to frighten all the children into fits, and
dilated on horrors enough to spoil all appetites: he proved to them
that, though they had the finest water in the world all over the
town, they had contrived to poison almost every drop of it; he waxed
eloquent, witty, sarcastic; and the net result was a general grumble.
"How did he get hold of all the specimens, as he calls them? What
business has he poking his nose down people's wells and waterbutts?"
But an unexpected ally arose at this juncture, in the coast-guard
lieutenant, who, being valiant after his evening's brandy-and-water,
rose and declared, "that Dr. Thurnall was a very clever man; that
by what he'd seen himself in the West Indies, it was all as true as
gospel; that the parish might have the cholera if it liked,"--and here
a few expletives occurred,--"but that he'd see that the coast-guard
houses were put to rights at once; for he would not have the lives of
Her Majesty's servants endangered by such dirty tricks, not fit for
heathen savages," etc. etc.
Tom struck while the iron was hot. He saw that the great man's speech
had produced an impression.
"Would he" (so he asked the lieutenant privately) "get some one to
join him, and present a few of these nuisances?"
He would do anything in his contempt for "a lot of long-shore
merchant-skippers and herringers, who went about calling themselves
captains, and fancy themselves, sir, as good as if they wore the
"Well, then, can't we find another householder--some cantankerous dog
who don't mind a row?"
Yes, the cantankerous dog was found, in the person of Mr. John
Penruddock, coal-merchant, who had quarrelled with Tardrew, because
Tardrew said he gave short weight--which he very probably did--and had
quarrelled also with Thomas Beer, senior, shipbuilder, about right of
passage through a back-yard.
Mr. Penruddock suddenly discovered that Mr. Beer kept up a dirt-heap
in the said back-yard, and with virtuous indignation vowed "he'd sarve
the old beggar out at last."
So far so good. The weapons of reason and righteousness having failed,
Tom felt at liberty to borrow the devil's tools. Now to pack a vestry,
and to nominate a local committee.
The vestry was packed; the committee nominated: of course half of
them refused to act--they "didn't want to go quarrelling with their
Tom explained to them cunningly and delicately that they would have
nothing to do; that one or two (he did not say that he was the one,
and the two also) would do all the work, and bear all the odium;
whereon the malcontents subsided, considering it likely that, after
all, nothing would be done.
Some may fancy that matters were now getting somewhat settled. Those
who do so know little of the charming machinery of local governments.
One man has "summat to say,"--utterly irrelevant. Another must needs
answer him with something equally irrelevant; a long chatter ensues,
in spite of all cries to order and question. Soon one and another gets
personal, and temper shows here and there. You would fancy that the
go-ahead party try to restore order, and help business on. Not in the
least. They have begun to cool a little. They are a little afraid that
they have committed themselves. If people quarrel with each other,
perhaps they may quarrel with them too. And they begin to be
wonderfully patient and impartial, in the hope of staving off the evil
day, and finding some excuse for doing nothing after all. "Hear 'mun
out!" ... "Vair and zoft, let ev'ry man ha' his zay!" ... "There's
vary gude rason in it!" ... "I didn't think of that avore;"--and so
forth; till in a quarter of an hour the whole question has to be
discussed over again, through the fog of a dozen fresh fallacies, and
the miserable earnest man finds himself considerably worse off than
when he began. Happy for him if some chance word is not let drop,
which will afford the whole assembly an excuse for falling on him
open-mouthed, as the cause of all their woes!
That chance word came. Mr. Penruddock gave a spiteful hit, being, as
he said, of a cantankerous turn, to Mr. Treluddra, principal "jowder,"
_i.e._ fish salesman, of Aberalva. Whereon Treluddra, whose conscience
told him that there was at present in his back-yard a cartload and
more of fish in every stage of putrefaction, which he had kept rotting
there rather than lower the market-price, rose in wrath.
"An' if any committee puts its noz into my back-yard, if it doant get
the biggest cod's innards as I can collar hold on, about its ears, my
name is not Treluddra! A man's house is his castle, says I, and them
as takes up with any o' this open-day burglary, for it's nothing less,
has to do wi' me, that's all, and them as knows their interest, knows
Terrible were these words; for old Treluddra, like most jowders,
combined the profession of money-lender with that of salesman; and
there were dozens in the place who were in debt to him for money
advanced to buy boats and nets, after wreck and loss. Besides, to
offend one jowder was to offend all. They combined to buy the fish at
any price they chose: if angered, they would combine now and then not
to buy it at all.
"You old twenty per cent rascal," roared the Lieutenant, "after making
a fortune out of these poor fellows' mishaps, do you want to poison
'em all with your stinking fish?"
"I say, Lieutenant," says old Beer, whose son owed Treluddra fifty
pounds at that moment, "fair's fair. You mind your Coastguard, and
we'm mind our trade. We'm free fishermen, by charter and right; you'm
not our master, and you shall know it."
"Know it?" says the Lieutenant, foaming.
"Iss; you put your head inside my presences, and I'll split mun open,
if I be hanged for it."
"You split my head open?"
"Iss, by--." And the old grey-bearded sea-king set his arms akimbo.
"Gentlemen, gentlemen, for Heaven's sake!" cries poor Headley, "this
is really going too far. Gentlemen, the vestry is adjourned!"
"Best thing too! oughtn't never to have been called," says one and
And some one, as he went out, muttered something about "interloping
strange doctors, colloquies with popish curates," which was answered
by a--"Put 'mun in the quay pule," from Treluddra.
Tom stepped up to Treluddra instantly, "What were you so kind as to
Treluddra turned very pale. "I didn't say nought."
"Oh, but I assure you I heard; and I shall be most happy to jump into
the quay pule this afternoon, if it will afford you the slightest
amusement. Say the word, and I'll borrow a flute, and play you the
Rogue's March all the while with my right hand, swimming with my left.
Now, gentlemen, one word before we part!"
"Who be you?" cries some one.
"A man at least, and ought to have a fair hearing. Now, I ask you,
what possible interest can I have in this matter? I knew when I began
that I should give myself a frightful quantity of trouble, and get
only what I have got."
"Why did you begin at all, then?"
"Because I was a very foolish, meddlesome ass, who fancied that I
ought to do my duty once in a way by my neighbours. Now, I have only
to say, that if you will but forgive and forget, and let bygones be
bygones, I promise you solemnly I'll never do my duty by you again
as long as I live, nor interfere with the sacred privilege of every
free-born Englishman, to do that which is right in the sight of his
own eyes, and wrong too!"
"You'm making fun at us," said old Beer dubiously.
"Well, Mr. Beer, and isn't that better than quarrelling with you? Come
along, we'll all go home and forget it, like good Christians. Perhaps
the cholera won't come; and if it does, what's the odds so long as
you're happy, eh?"
And to the intense astonishment both of the Lieutenant and Frank, Tom
walked home with the malcontents, making himself so agreeable, that he
was forgiven freely on the spot.
"What does the fellow mean? He's deserted us, sir, after bringing us
here to make fools of us!"
Frank could give no answer; but Thurnall gave one himself that
evening, both to Frank and the Lieutenant.
"The cholera will come; and these fellows are just mad; but I mustn't
quarrel with them, mad or not."
"For the same reason that you must not. If we keep our influence,
we may be able to do some good at the last, which means, in plain
English, saving a few human lives. As for you Lieutenant, you have
behaved like a hero, and have been served as heroes generally are.
What you must do is this. On the first hint of disease, pack up your
traps and your good lady, and go and live in the watch-house across
the river. As for the men's houses, I'll set them to rights in a day,
if you'll get the commander of the district to allow you a little
chloride of lime and whitewash."
And so the matter ended.
"You are a greater puzzle than ever to me, Thurnall," said Frank. "You
are always pretending to care for nothing but your own interest, and
yet here you have gone out of your way to incur odium, knowing, you
say, that your cause was all but hopeless."
"Well, I do it because I like it. It's a sort of sporting with your
true doctor. He blazes away at a disease where he sees one, as he
would at a bear or a lion; the very sight of it excites his organ of
destructiveness. Don't you understand me? You hate sin, you know.
Well, I hate disease. Moral evil is your devil, and physical evil is
mine. I hate it, little or big; I hate to see a fellow sick; I hate
to see a child rickety and pale; I hate to see a speck of dirt in the
street; I hate to see a woman's gown torn; I hate to see her stockings
down at heel; I hate to see anything wasted, anything awry, anything
going wrong; I hate to see water-power wasted, manure wasted, land
wasted, muscle wasted, pluck wasted, brains wasted; I hate neglect,
incapacity, idleness, ignorance, and all the disease and misery which
spring out of that. There's my devil; and I can't help it for the life
of me, going right at his throat, wheresoever I meet him!"
Lastly, rather to clear his reputation than in the hope of doing good,
Tom wrote up to London, and detailed the case to that much-calummated
body, the General Board of Health, informing them civilly, that the
Nuisances Removal Act was simply waste paper; that he could not get it
to bear at all on Aberalva; and that if he had done so, it would have
been equally useless, for the simple reason that it constituted the
offenders themselves judge and jury in their own case.
To which the Board returned for answer, that they were perfectly aware
of the fact, and deeply deplored the same: but that as soon as cholera
broke out in Aberalva, they should be most happy to send down an
To which Tom replied courteously, that he would not give them the
trouble, being able, he trusted, to perform without assistance the not
uncommon feat of shutting the stable-door after the horse was stolen.
And so was Aberalva left "a virgin city," undefiled by Government
interference, to the blessings of that "local government," which
signifies, in plain English, the leaving the few to destroy themselves
and the many, by the unchecked exercise of the virtues of pride and
ignorance, stupidity and stinginess.
But to Tom, in his sorest need, arose a new and most unexpected
coadjutor; and this was the way in which it came to pass.
For it befell in that pleasant summer time, "when small birds sing and
shaughs are green," that Thurnall started, one bright Sunday eve, to
see a sick child at an upland farm, some few miles from the town.
And partly because he liked the walk, and partly because he could no
other, having neither horse nor gig, he went on foot; and whistled as
he went like any throstle-cock, along the pleasant vale, by flowery
banks and ferny walls, by oak and ash and thorn, while Alva flashed
and swirled, between green boughs below, clear coffee-brown from last
night's rain. Some miles up the turnpike road he went, and then away
to the right, through the ash-woods of Trebooze, up by the rill which
drips from pool to pool over the ledges of grey slate, deep-bedded in
dark sedge, and broad bright burdock leaves, and tall angelica, and
ell-broad rings and tufts of king, and crown, and lady-fern, and all
the semi-tropic luxuriance of the fat western soil, and steaming
western woods; out into the boggy moor at the glen head, all fragrant
with the gold-tipped gale, where the turf is enamelled with the hectic
marsh violet, and the pink pimpernel, and the pale yellow leaf-stars
of the butterwort, and the blue bells and green threads of the
ivy-leaved campanula; out upon the steep smooth down above, and away
over the broad cattle-pastures; and then to pause a moment, and look
far and wide over land and sea.
It was a "day of God." The earth lay like one great emerald, ringed
and roofed with sapphire; blue sea, blue mountain, blue sky overhead.
There she lay, not sleeping, but basking in her quiet Sabbath joy, as
though her two great sisters, of the sea and air, had washed her weary
limbs with holy tears, and purged away the stains of last week's
sin and toil, and cooled her hot worn forehead with their pure
incense-breath, and folded her within their azure robes, and brooded
over her with smiles of pitying love, till she smiled back in answer,
and took heart and hope for next week's weary work.
Heart and hope for next week's work.--That was the sermon which it
preached to Tom Thurnall, as he stood there alone, a stranger and a
wanderer, like Ulysses of old; but, like him, self-helpful, cheerful,
fate-defiant. In one respect indeed, he knew less than Ulysses, and
was more of a heathen than he; for he knew not what Ulysses knew,
that a heavenly guide was with him in his wanderings; still less what
Ulysses knew not, that what he called the malicious sport of fortune
was, in truth, the earnest education of a father; but who will blame
him for getting strength and comfort from such merely natural founts,
or say that the impulse came from below, and not from above, which
made him say--
"Brave old world she is, after all, and right well made; and looks
right well to-day, in her go-to-meeting clothes; and plenty of room
and chance in her for a brave man to earn his bread, if he will but go
right on about his business, as the birds and the flowers do, instead
of peaking and pining over what people think of him, like that
miserable Briggs. Hark to that jolly old missel-thrush below! he's had
his nest to build, and his supper to earn, and his young ones to feed,
and all the crows and kites in the wood to drive away, the sturdy John
Bull that he is; and yet he can find time to sing as merrily as
an abbot, morning and evening, since he sang the new year in last
January. And why should not I?"
Let him be a while; there are sounds of deeper meaning in the air,
if his heart had ears to hear them; far off church-bells chiming to
even-song; hymn-tunes floating up the glen from the little chapel in
the vale. He may learn what they, too, mean some day. Honour to him,
at least, that he has learnt what the missel-thrush below can tell
him. If he accept cheerfully and manfully the things which he does
see, he will be all the more able to enter hereafter into the deeper
mystery of things unseen. The road toward true faith and reverence for
God's kingdom of heaven does not lie through Manichaean contempt and
slander of God's kingdom of earth.
So let him stride over the down, enjoying the mere fact of life, and
health, and strength, and whistling shrilly to the bird below, who
trumpets out a few grand ringing notes, and repeats them again and
again, in saucy self-satisfaction; and then stops to listen for the
answer to this challenge; and then rattles on again with a fresh
passage, more saucily than ever, in a tone which seems to ask,--"You
could sing that, eh? but can you sing this, my fine fellow on the down
above?" So he seems to Tom to say; and, tickled with the fancy, Tom
laughs, and whistles, and laughs, and has just time to compose his
features as he steps up to the farm-yard gate.
Let him be, I say again. He might have better Sunday thoughts; perhaps
he will have some day. At least he is a man, and a brave one; and as
the greater contains the less, surely before a man can be a good man,
he must be a brave one first, much more a man at all. Cowards, old
Odin held, inevitably went to the very bottom of Hela-pool, and by no
possibility, unless of course they became brave at last, could rise
out of that everlasting bog, but sank whining lower and lower, like
mired cattle, to all eternity in the unfathomable peat-slime. And if
the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Revelation, and the eighth
verse, is to be taken as it stands, their doom has not altered since
Odin's time, unless to become still worse.
Tom came up, over the home-close and through the barton-gate, through
the farm-yard, and stopped at last at the porch. The front door was
open, and the door beyond it; and ere he knocked, he stopped, looking
in silence at a picture which held him spellbound for a moment by its
rich and yet quiet beauty.
Tom was no artist, and knew no more of painting, in spite of his
old friendship with Claude, than was to be expected of a keen and
observant naturalist who had seen half the globe. Indeed, he had been
in the habit of snubbing Claude's profession; and of arriving, on
pre-Raphaelite grounds, at a by no means pre-Raphaelite conclusion.
"A picture, you say, is worth nothing unless you copy Nature. But you
can't copy her. She is ten times more gorgeous than any man can dare
represent her. Ergo, every picture is a failure; and the nearest
hedge-bush is worth all your galleries together"--a syllogism of sharp
edge, which he would back up by Byron's--
"I've seen much finer women, ripe and real,
Than all the nonsense of their stone ideal."
But here was one of Nature's own pictures, drawn and coloured by more
than mortal hand, and framed over and above, ready to his eye, by the
square of the dark doorway, beyond which all was flooded with the full
glory, of the low north-western sun.
A dark oak-ribbed ceiling; walls of pale fawn-yellow; an open window,
showing a corner of rich olive-stone wall, enamelled with golden
lichens, orange and green combs of polypody, pink and grey tufts of
pellitory, all glowing in the sunlight.
Above the window-sill rose a bush of maiden-blush roses; a tall spire
of blue monkshood; and one head of scarlet lychnis, like a spark
of fire; and behind all, the dark blue sea, which faded into the
At the window stood a sofa of old maroon leather, its dark hue
throwing out in strong relief two figures who sat upon it. And when
Tom had once looked at them, he looked at nothing else.
There sat the sick girl, her head nestling upon the shoulder of Grace
Harvey; a tall, delicate thing of seventeen, with thin white cheeks,
the hectic spot aflame on each, and long fair curls, which mingled
lovingly with Grace's dark tresses, as they sat cheek against cheek,
and hand in hand. Her eyes were closed; Tom thought at first that she
was asleep: but there was a quiet smile about her pale lips; and every
now and then her left hand left Grace's, to move toward a leaf full of
strawberries which lay on Grace's lap; and Tom could see that she
was listening intently to Grace, who told and told, in that sweet,
measured voice of hers, her head erect, her face in the full blaze of
sunshine, her great eyes looking out far away beyond the sea, beyond
the sky, into some infinite which only she beheld.
Tom had approached unheard, across the farm-yard straw. He stood and
looked his fill. The attitude of the two girls was so graceful, that
he was loth to disturb it; and loth, too, to disturb a certain sunny
calm which warmed at once and softened his stout heart.
He wished, too--he scarce knew why--to hear what Grace was saying;
and as he listened, her voice was so distinct and delicate in its
modulations, that every word came clearly to his ear.
It was the beautiful old legend of St. Dorothea:--
"So they did all sorts of dreadful things to her, and then led her
away to die; and they stood laughing there. But after a little time
there came a boy, the prettiest boy that ever was seen on earth, and
in his hand a basket full of fruits and flowers, more beautiful than
tongue can tell. And he said, 'Dorothea sends you these, out of the
heavenly garden which she told you of--will you believe her now?' And
then, before they could reply, he vanished away. And Theophilus looked
at the flowers, and tasted the fruit--and a new heart grew up within
him; and he said, 'Dorothea's God shall be my God, and I will die for
him like her.'
"So you see, darling, there are sweeter fruits than these, and gayer
flowers, in the place to which you go; and all the lovely things in
this world here will seem quite poor and worthless beside the glory of
that better land which He will show you: and yet you will not care to
look at them; for the sight of Him will be enough, and you will care
to think of nothing else."
"And you are sure He will accept me, after all?" asked the sick girl,
opening her eyes, and looking up at Grace. She saw Thurnall standing
in the doorway, and gave a little scream.
Tom came forward, bowing. "I am very sorry to have disturbed you. I
suspect Miss Harvey was giving you better medicine than I can give."
Now why did Tom say that, to whom the legend of St. Dorothea, and,
indeed, that whole belief in a better land, was as a dream fit only
Not altogether because he must need say something civil. True, he
felt, on the whole, about the future state as Goethe did--"To the able
man this world is not dumb: why should he ramble off into eternity?
Such incomprehensible subjects lie too far off, and only disturb our
thoughts, if made the subject of daily meditation." That there was a
future state he had no doubt. Our having been born once, he used to
say, is the strongest possible presumption in favour of our being born
again; and probably, as nature always works upward and develops higher
forms, in some higher state. Indeed, for aught he knew, the old
ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs might be alive now, as lions--or as
men. He himself, indeed, he had said, ere now, had been probably a
pterodactyle of the Lias, neither fish, flesh, nor good red herring,
but crocodile and bat in one, able alike to swim, or run, or fly, eat
anything, and live in any element. Still it was no concern of his. He
was here; and here was his business. He had not thought of this life
before he came into it; and it would be time enough to think of the
next life when he got into it. Besides, he had all a doctor's dislike
of those terrors of the unseen world, with which some men are wont to
oppress still more failing nature, and break the bruised reed. His
business was to cure his patients' bodies; and if he could not do
that, at least to see that life was not shortened in them by nervous
depression and anxiety. Accustomed to see men of every character die
under every possible circumstance, he had come to the conclusion that
the "safety of a man's soul" could by no possibility be inferred from
his death-bed temper. The vast majority, good or bad, died in peace:
why not let them die so? If nature kindly took off the edge of sorrow,
by blunting the nervous system, what right had man to interfere with
so merciful an arrangement? Every man, he held in his easy optimism,
would go where he ought to go: and it could be no possible good to
him--indeed, it might be a very bad thing for him, as in this life--to
go where he ought not to go. So he used to argue, with three-fourths
of mankind, mingling truth and falsehood: and would, on these grounds,
have done his best to turn the dissenting preacher out of that house,
had he found him in it. But to-day he was in a more lenient, perhaps
in a more human, and therefore more spiritual mood. It was all very
well for him, full of life, and power, and hope, to look on death in
that cold, careless way; but for that poor young thing, cut off just
as life opened from all that made life lovely--was not death for her a
painful, ugly anomaly? Could she be blamed, if she shuddered at going
forth into the unknown blank, she knew not whither? All very well for
the old emperor of Rome, who had lived his life and done his work, to
play with the dreary question--
"Animula, vagula, blandula,
Hospes comesque corporis,
Quae nunc abibis in loca,
Rigidula, nudula, pallida?--"
But she, who had lived no life, and done no work--only had pined
through weary years of hideous suffering; crippled and ulcerated with
scrofula, now dying of consumption: was it not a merciful dream, a
beautiful dream, a just dream--so beautiful and just, that perhaps it
might be true,--that in some fairer world, all this, and more, might
be made up to her? If not, was it not a mistake and an injustice, that
she should ever have come into the world at all? And was not Grace
doing a rational as well as a loving work, in telling her, under
whatsoever symbols, that such a home of rest and beauty awaited her?
It was not the sort of place to which he expected, perhaps even
wished, to go: but it fitted well enough with a young girl's hopes, a
young girl's powers of enjoyment. Let it be; perhaps there was such a
place,--why not?--fitted for St. Dorothea, and those cut off in youth
like her; and other places fit for such as he. And he spoke more
tenderly than usual (though he was never untender), as he said,--
"And you feel better to-day? I am sure you must, with such a kind
friend, to tell you such sweet tales."
"I do not feel better, thank you. And why should I wish to do so? You
all take too much trouble about me; why do you want to keep me here?"
"We are loth to lose you; and besides, while you can be kept here, it
is a sign that you ought to be here."
"So Grace tells me. Yes, I will be patient, and wait till He has done
His work. I am more patient now; am I not, Grace?" And she fondled
Grace's hand, and looked up in her face.
"Yes," said Grace, who was standing near, with downcast face, trying
to avoid Tom's eye. "Yes, you are very good; but you must not talk:"
but the girl went on, with kindling eye,--
"Ah--I was very fretful at first, because I could not go to heaven
at once: but Grace showed me how it was good to be here, as well
as there, as long as He thought that I might be made perfect by
sufferings. And since then, my pain has become quite pleasant to me,
and I am ready to wait and bear--wait and bear."
"You must not talk,--see, you are beginning to cough," said Tom, who
wished somehow to stop a form of thought which so utterly puzzled him.
Not that he had not heard it before; commonplace enough indeed it is,
thank God: but that day the words came home to him with spirit and
power, all the more solemnly from their contrast with the scene
around--without, all sunshine, joy, and glory: all which could tempt
a human being to linger here: and within, that young girl longing to
leave it all, and yet content to stay and suffer. What mysteries there
were in the human spirit--mysteries to which that knowledge of mankind
on which he prided himself gave him no key!
"What if I were laid on my back to-morrow for life, by a fall, a blow,
as I have seen many a better man than me;--should I not wish to have
one to talk to me, as she was talking to that child?" And for a moment
a yearning after Grace came over him, as it had done before, and swept
from his mind the dark cloud of suspicion.
"Now I must talk with your mother," said he; "for you have better
company than mine; and I hear her just coming in."
He settled little matters for his patient's comfort with the farmer's
wife. When he returned to bid her good-bye Grace was gone.
"I hope I have not driven her away."
"Oh no; she had been here an hour, and she must go back now, to get
her mother's supper."
"That is a good girl," said Tom, looking after her as she went down
"She's an angel from heaven, sir. Not a three days go over without
her walking up here all this way after her work, to comfort my poor
maid--and all of us as well. It's like the dew of heaven upon us.
Pity, sir, you didn't see her home."
"I should have liked it well enough; but folks might talk, if two
young people were seen walking together Sunday evening."
"Oh, sir, they know her too well by now, for miles round: and you too,
sir, I'll make bold to say."
"Well, at least I'll go after her."
So Tom went, and kept Grace in sight, till she had crossed the little
moor, and disappeared in the wood below.
He had gone about a hundred yards into the wood, when he heard voices
and laughter--then a loud shriek. He hurried forward. In another
minute, Grace rushed up to him, her eyes wide with terror and
"What is it?" cried he, trying to stop her: but, not seeming to see
him, she dashed past him, and ran on. Another moment, and a man
appeared in full pursuit.
It was Trebooze of Trebooze, an evil laugh upon his face.
Tom planted himself across the narrow path in an attitude which there
was no mistaking.
Not a word passed between them. Silently and instinctively, like two
fierce dogs, the two men flew upon each other; Tom full of righteous
wrath, and Trebooze of half-drunken passion, turned to fury by the
He was a far taller and heavier man than Thurnall, and, as the bully
of the neighbourhood, counted on an easy victory. But he was mistaken.
After the first rush was over, he found it impossible to close
with his foe, and saw in the doctor's face, now grown cool and
business-like as usual, the wily smile of superior science and
"Brandy-and-water in the morning ought not to improve the wind," said
Tom to himself, as his left hand countered provokingly, while his
right rattled again and again upon Trebooze's watch-chain. "Justice
will overtake you in the offending part, which I take to be the
In a few minutes more the scuffle ended shamefully enough for the
Tom stood over him for a minute, as he sat grovelling and groaning
among the long grass. "I may as well see that I have not killed him.
No, he will do as well as ever--which is not saying much.... Now,
sir! Go home quietly, and ask Mrs. Trebooze for a little rhubarb and
salvolatile. I'll call up in the course of to-morrow to see how you
"I'll kill you, if I catch you!"
"As a man, I am open of course to be killed by any fair means; but as
a doctor, I am still bound to see after my patient's health." And
Tom bowed civilly, and walked back up the path to find Grace, after
washing face and hands in the brook.
He found her up at Tolchard's farm, trembling and thankful.
"I cannot do less than see Miss Harvey safe home."
"Mrs. Tolchard, I am sure, will walk with us; it would be safer, in
case you felt faint again."
But Mrs. Tolchard would not come to save Grace's notions of propriety;
so Tom passed Grace's arm through his own. She offered to withdraw it.
"No; you will require it. You do not know yet how much you have gone
through. My fear is, that you will feel it all the more painfully when
the excitement is past. I shall send you up a cordial; and you must
promise me to take it. You owe me a little debt you know, to-day; you
must pay it by taking my medicines."
Grace looked up at him sidelong; for there was a playful tenderness
in his voice which was new to her, and which thrilled her through and
"I will indeed, I promise you. But I am so much better now. Really, I
can walk alone!" And she withdrew her arm from his, but not hastily.
After that they walked on awhile in silence. Grace kept her veil
down, for her eyes were full of tears. She loved that man intensely,
utterly. She did not seek to deny it to herself. God had given him to
her, and hers he was. The very sea, the devourer whom she hated, who
hungered to swallow up all young fair life, the very sea had yielded
him up to her, alive from the dead. And yet that man, she knew,
suspected her of a base and hateful crime. It was too dreadful! She
could not exculpate herself, save by blank denial--and what would that
avail? The large hot drops ran down her cheeks. She had need of all
her strength to prevent sobbing.
She looked round. In the bright summer evening, all things were full
of joy and love. The hedge-banks were gay as flower gardens; the
swifts chased each other, screaming harsh delight; the ring-dove
murmured in the wood beneath his world-old song, which she had taught
the children a hundred times--
"Curuckity coo, curuck coo;
You love me, and I love you!"
The woods slept golden in the evening sunlight; and over head brooded,
like one great smile of God, the everlasting blue.
"He will right me!" she said. "'Hold thee still in the Lord, and abide
patiently, and He will make thy righteousness clear as the light, and
thy just dealing as the noon-day!'" And after that thought she wept no
Was it as a reward for her faith that Tom began to talk to her? He had
paced on by her side, serious, but not sad. True, he had suspected
her; he suspected her still. But that scene with the dying child had
been no sham. There, at least, there was nothing to suspect, nothing
to sneer at. The calm purity, self-sacrifice, hope, which was
contained in it, had softened his world-hardened spirit, and woke up
in him feelings which were always pleasant, feelings which the sight
of his father, or the writing to his father, could only awaken.
Quaintly enough, the thought of Grace and of his father seemed
intertwined, inextricable. If the old man had but such a nurse as she!
And for a moment he felt a glow of tenderness toward her, because he
thought she would be tender to his father. She had stolen his money,
certainly; or if not, she knew where it was, and would not tell him.
Well, what matter just then? He did not want the money at that minute.
How much pleasanter and wiser to take things as they came, and enjoy
himself while he could; and fancy that she was always what he had seen
her that day. After all, it was much more pleasant to trust people
than to suspect them: "Handsome is who handsome does! And besides, she
did me the kindness of saving my life; so it would but be civil to
talk to her a little."
He began to talk to her about the lovely scene around; and found, to
his surprise, that she saw as much of it as he, and saw a great deal
more in it than he. Her answers were short, modest, faltering; but
each one of them suggestive; and Tom soon found that he had met with
a mind which contained all the elements of poetry, and needed only
education to develop them.
"What a blue stocking, pre-Raphaelite seventh-heavenarian she would
have been, if she had had the misfortune to be born in that station of
life!" But where a clever man is talking to a beautiful woman, talk he
will, and must, for the mere sake of showing off, though she be but
a village schoolmistress; and Tom soon found himself, with a secret
sneer at his own vanity, displaying before her all the much finer
things that he had seen in his travels; and as he talked, she
answered, with quiet expressions of wonder, sympathy, regret at her
own narrow sphere of experience, till, as if the truth was not enough,
he found himself running to the very edge of exaggeration, and a
little over it, in the enjoyment of calling out her passion for the
marvellous, especially when called out in honour of himself.
And she, simple creature, drank it all in as sparkling wine, and only
dreaded lest the stream should cease. Adventures with noble savages
in palm-fringed coral-islands, with greedy robbers amid the fragrant
hills of Greece, with fierce Indians beneath the snow-peaks of the Far
West, with coward Mexicans among tunals of cactus and agave, beneath
the burning tropic sun--What a man he was! Where had he not been? and
what had he not seen? And how he had been preserved--for her? And his
image seemed to her utterly beautiful and glorious, clothed as it
was in the beauty and glory of all that he had seen, and done, and
suffered. Oh Love, Love, Love, the same in peasant and in peer! The
more honour to you, then, old Love, to be the same thing in this world
which is common to peasant and to peer. They say that you are blind;
a dreamer, an exaggerator--a liar, in short. They know just nothing
about you, then. You will not see people as they seem, and as they
have become, no doubt: but why? because you see them as they ought
to be, and are, in some deep way, eternally, in the sight of Him who
conceived and created them.
At last she started, as if waking from a pleasant dream, and spoke,
half to herself--
"Oh, how foolish of me--to be idling away this opportunity; the only
one, perhaps, which I may have! Oh, Mr. Thurnall, tell me about this
"What about it?"
"Everything. Ever since I heard of what you have been saying to the
people, ever since Mr. Headley's sermon, it has been like fire in my
"I am truly glad to hear it. If all parsons had preached about it for
the last fifteen years as Mr. Headley did last Sunday, if they had
told people plainly that, if the cholera was God's judgment at all, it
was His judgment of the sin of dirt, and that the repentance which
He required was to wash and be clean in literal earnest, the cholera
would be impossible in England by now."
"Oh, Mr. Thurnall: but is it not God's doing? and can we stop His
"I know nothing about that, Miss Harvey. I only know that wheresoever
cholera breaks out, it is some one's fault; and if deaths occur, some
one ought to be tried for manslaughter--I had almost said murder, and
transported for life."
"That will be settled in the next generation, when men have common
sense enough to make laws for the preservation of their own lives,
against the dirt, and covetousness, and idleness, of a set of human
Grace was silent for awhile.
"But can nothing be done to keep it off now? Must it come?"
"I believe it must. Still one may do enough to save many lives in the
"Enough to save many lives--lives?--immortal souls, too! Oh, what
could I do?"
"A great deal, Miss Harvey," said Tom, across whom the recollection of
Grace's influence flashed for the first time. What a help she might be
And he talked on and on to her, and found that she entered into his
plans with all her wild enthusiasm, but also with sound practical
common sense; and Tom began to respect her intellect as well as her
At last, however, she faltered--
"Oh, if I could but believe all this! Is it not fighting against God?"
"I do not know what sort of God yours is, Miss Harvey. I believe in
some One who made all that!" and he pointed round him to the glorious
woods and glorious sky; "I should have fancied from your speech to
that poor girl, that you believed in Him also. You may, however, only
believe in the same being in whom the Methodist parson believes, one
who intends to hurl into endless agony every human being who has not
had a chance of hearing the said preacher's nostrum for delivering men
out of the hands of Him who made them!"
"What do you mean?" asked Grace, startled alike by Tom's words, and
the intense scorn and bitterness of his tone.
"That matters little. What do you mean in turn? What did you mean by
saying, that saving lives is saving immortal souls?"
"Oh, is it not giving them time to repent? What will become of them,
if they are cut off in the midst of their sins?"
"If you had a son whom it was not convenient to you to keep at home,
would his being a bad fellow--the greatest scoundrel on the earth--be
a reason for your turning him into the streets to live by thieving,
and end by going to the dogs for ever and a day?"
"No; but what do you mean?"
"That I do not think that God, when He sends a human being out of this
world, is more cruel than you or I would be. If we transport a man
because he is too bad to be in England, and he shows any signs of
mending, we give him a fresh chance in the colonies, and let him start
again, to try if he cannot do better next time. And do you fancy that
God, when He transports a man out of this world, never gives him a
fresh chance in another--especially when nine out of ten poor rascals
have never had a fair chance yet?"
Grace looked up in his face astonished.
"Oh, if I could but believe that! Oh! it would give me some gleam of
hope for my two!--But no--it's not in Scripture. Where the tree falls
there it lies."
"And as the fool dies, so dies the wise man; and there is one account
to the righteous and to the wicked. And a man has no pre-eminence over
a beast, for both turn alike to dust; and Solomon does not know,
he says, or any one else, anything about the whole matter, or even
whether there be any life after death at all; and so, he says, the
only wise thing is to leave such deep questions alone, for Him who
made us to settle in His own way, and just to fear God and keep His
commandments, and do the work which lies nearest us with all our
Grace was silent.
"You are surprised to hear me quote Scripture, and well you may be:
but that same book of Ecclesiastes is a very old favourite with me;
for I am no Christian, but a worlding, if ever there was one. But it
does puzzle me why you, who are a Christian, should talk one half-hour
as you have been talking to that poor girl, and the next go
for information about the next life to poor old disappointed,
broken-hearted Solomon, with his three hundred and odd idolatrous
wives, who confesses fairly that this life is a failure, and that he
does not know whether there is any next life at all."
Whether Tom was altogether right or not, is not the question here; the
novelist's business is to represent the real thoughts of mankind, when
they are not absolutely unfit to be told; and certainly Tom spoke the
doubts of thousands when he spoke his own.
Grace was silent still.
"Well," he said, "beyond that I can't go, being no theologian. But
when a preacher tells people in one breath of a God who so loves men
that He gave His own Son to save them, and in the next, that the same
God so hates men that He will cast nine-tenths of them into hopeless
torture for ever,--(and if that is not hating, I don't know what
is),--unless he, the preacher, gets a chance of talking to them for a
few minutes--Why, I should like, Miss Harvey, to put that gentleman
upon a real fire for ten minutes, instead of his comfortable Sunday's
dinner, which stands ready frying for him, and which he was going home
to eat, as jolly as if all the world was not going to destruction; and
there let him feel what fire was like, and reconsider his statements."
Grace looked up at him no more; but walked on in silence, pondering
"Howsoever that may be, sir, tell me what to do in this cholera, and I
will do it, if I kill myself with work or infection!"
"You shan't do that. We cannot spare you from Aberalva, Grace," said
Tom; "you must save a few more poor creatures ere you die, out of
the hands of that Good Being who made little children, and love, and
happiness, and the flowers, and the sunshine, and the fruitful earth;
and who, you say, redeemed them all again, when they were lost, by an
act of love which passes all human dreams."
"Do not talk so!" cried Grace. "It frightens me; it puzzles me, and
makes me miserable. Oh, if you would but become a Christian!"
"And listen to the Gospel?"
"A gospel means good news, I thought. When you have any to tell me, I
will listen. Meanwhile, the news that three out of four of those poor
fellows down town are going to a certain place, seems to me such
terribly bad news, that I can't help fancying that it is not the
Gospel at all; and so get on the best way I can, listening to the good
news about God which this grand old world, and my microscope, and my
books, tell me. No, Grace, I have more good news than that, and I'll
confess it to you."